FAQ Me, I’m Leaving The Country!

If you don't recognise these people, you shouldn't be reading this.

So here. I have some news. Nathalie and I are moving to Lisbon in Portugal, and soon. Real soon. Like, three short, packing-packed weeks away. This is happening quite quickly and I’m not getting to see nearly enough people before I go, so I figured I’d save us both (you and me) a bit of time and cover some of the Frequently Asked Questions below so that when I do see you, we’re able to get right into the good stuff.

The Basics

Q Why are you moving to Lisbon?
A We had to move out of our house so our landlord and his family aren’t homeless and considering our options, long-term ambitions, rental market in this city and what the next six to nine months entail (periods of high-intensity, high-stress work), it made sense to live somewhere cheaper and sunnier, for a while at least. Nathalie has simulcast a nice post about it here.

Q You’re not leaving forever?
A Nope. We intend to come back to Ireland. I really like this country, and no matter where I am, this is my home, but we’re seizing this opportunity to widen our horizons, change our focus, and have an adventure.

Q Have you ever been to Lisbon?
A Yes. Once. And it was lovely!

Q Do you speak Portuguese?
A Why do people keep asking me that? Ah no, I get it. I don’t really speak it yet, but we’re both learning and we’ve found that, like many European cities, the Lisboan standard of English is excellent.

Q Youse getting jobs over there?
A Nope!

Q 😕
A Don’t worry! My wonderful employer is being *extremely cool* and is helping me get set up to work remotely. Nathalie is freelance and will continue to travel the world (including coming back to Dublin periodically) for shoots and meetings, while filing copy and working remotely from Lisbon. She’ll also be investing time and energy into some exciting projects.

Q Do you have somewhere to live yet?
A Wellllllll no…not yet. We’re looking at places and are hoping to get a modest apartment in the city when we’re there in December.

Q What are you going to do with your 🐈?
A Bring him, obvs. They have cats in Portugal, I assume.

Q So, when can we meet up? You owe me a hug / money / a lot of money / an apology (delete where appropriate)
A Delighted you asked! Nathalie and I’ll be back in Dublin over the Christmas break and will be having a going-away drinks do on New Year’s Eve and would love to see you there. This has been a chaotic few months and even with this primer, we have plenty to catch up on

Q I’m going to be in Lisbon in X month(s), you up for meeting up?
A YES! Give us a shout, we’d love to share what we know about the city, show you some great places to eat and drink and have fun. I mean it, hit us up.

The Important Stuff

Q Have you ever lived anywhere hot before?
A I spent a few weeks in Cork once, but I guess that’s not what you mean, so no, I haven’t.

Q What are you most worried about?
A Two things. The first is how much I’m going to have to spend on sunscreen. My pale, translucent skin isn’t built for the sun. The second thing is how I’m going to play video games or sit in and program for fun on a beautiful sunny day. I worry that I’ll be aimlessly standing around outdoors slathered in SPF every day I have off out of a tragically misfiring Irish sense of obligation to “make the best of the weather”.

Q How’s the food?
A Amazing. Local specialties like pasteis de nata (transcendent custard tarts that have to be eaten fresh with a short cup of coffee to be believed), bolinhos de bacalhau (salt cod fried in seasoned potato) are a continuous delight. Drinkswise? The wine is good, the port is good, the beer is good and the coffee is good. It’s all really good.

Q Here, what’s that game you’re making?
A I don’t know when I’ll be able to talk about it, but don’t worry, you’ll hear about it when I can because I’ll be shouting it from the rooftops. Hopefully soon!

Q I’m gonna miss you.
A That isn’t a question, but I’ll miss you too, but also, I won’t, because you’re going to come hang out in Lisbon some time, it’s sunny and cheap and nice and your ol’ pal Ben’ll be there. (I’ll also be back in Dublin from time to time and would love to do nice Dublin things with friends, like dinner and pints in nice pubs and strolling around this lovely city). If you’d like to be kept in the loop, and there’s no obligation here, drop your email in here.

P.S. Portraits by wonderful and talented Lisbon-based photographers The Barilles.

My 30 at 30

I’m thirty now. 30. Officially a grown-up, at least in the eyes of my childhood self. Thirty once seemed like an impossibly long time away, and I suppose it was, looking back on who I was and who I’ve become. To celebrate and commiserate with myself, here’s my thirty things I’ve learned about being thirty in the few hours I’ve had to take it for a spin.

[dropcap]1[/dropcap]  The older you get, the smarter you get. There were things that I was better at ten or fifteen years ago, but in hindsight, I have only gotten more savvy and centred as time has gone on, which makes me optimistic and cheerful about the future.

[dropcap]2[/dropcap]  Friends are important, real friends are essential.

[dropcap]3[/dropcap]  Cooking used to be something annoying I had to do before I could eat, now it’s one of the most enjoyable ways I can spend time. I didn’t see that coming. Still don’t enjoy gardening though.

[dropcap]4[/dropcap]  Even though I’ve changed so much in my lifetime that I feel unrecognisable compared to wee baby Ben, I’ve only become more myself.

[dropcap]5[/dropcap]  Keep an open mind about your career. I once felt pretty smug about the fact that I knew what I wanted to do with my life. Being a filmmaker is all I had ever wanted, and all I thought I’d ever want, but my ambitions and the world have changed. I’m grateful I got the chance to do what I wanted, but even more excited about the next adventure.

[dropcap]6[/dropcap]  Young people don’t take their opposite gender seriously, especially young men. I thought I did, but I really didn’t. Recent ugliness I’ve witnessed has made me more resolute in my support for gender equality, and thankful that I have healthy relationships with the women in my life. Remember, they’re just like us!

[dropcap]7[/dropcap]  The Pale Blue Dot image and speech blows my mind as much now as it did fifteen years ago. It’ll blow your mind too.

[dropcap]8[/dropcap]  I still don’t know what to do with my hair, but I’m getting there. If you have your hair game figured out, I salute you.

[dropcap]9[/dropcap]  Ditto clothes.

[dropcap]10[/dropcap]  I rarely go to bed later than midnight because I have to be up in the morning. This is a much more enjoyable shift than I expected.

[dropcap]11[/dropcap]  The most valuable skill I’ve ever developed is my ability to listen. It’s brought me great things in life.

[dropcap]12[/dropcap]  Don’t interrupt.

[dropcap]13[/dropcap]  Always sleep on a draft before sending it off. You’ll spot loads of stuff.

[dropcap]14[/dropcap]  Pain and heartbreak are as horrific as they are necessary to become a fully grown and rounded person. My capacity to heal has helped me shape and know myself, though seeking damage willingly is a toxic and dangerous trait.

[dropcap]15[/dropcap]  Be as generous as you can be, but avoid truly selfish people. You should never share with people you’ll end up resenting.

[dropcap]16[/dropcap]  Take care of your feet, they are the tyres of your body.

[dropcap]17[/dropcap]  Know and do what you’re good at, but don’t be afraid to be the worst at something. Even Jimi Hendrix sucked at guitar once.

[dropcap]18[/dropcap]  We’re all in this together.

[dropcap]19[/dropcap]  Be optimistic and assume the best of people. Better to be magnanimous and wrong than bitter and right.

[dropcap]20[/dropcap]  Fight shyness. There’s nothing wrong with being an introvert, but getting to know other people easily is opening your life and your heart to a universe of possibilities.

[dropcap]21[/dropcap]  Getting up early is pretty much always worthwhile. That’s why it’s hard.

[dropcap]22[/dropcap]  Living in the future is cool if you think about it at all:

 

[dropcap]23[/dropcap]  Learning to enjoy things you didn’t before is a way to find happiness almost anywhere.

[dropcap]24[/dropcap]  Travelling is one of the best ways to spend time and money, as long as you venture out of your comfort zone.

[dropcap]25[/dropcap]  Nothing is static or absolute, life is a series of balancing acts and feedback loops. Making the journey isn’t like walking, it’s more like surfing.

[dropcap]26[/dropcap]  Don’t be afraid to cry (in moderation). (Warning! Spoiler for the finale for The US Office)

[dropcap]27[/dropcap]  A key to a healthy relationship is respect for one another’s passions. You get that for free if those passions are shared, but if not, take a genuine interest.

[dropcap]28[/dropcap]  Arrogance isn’t confidence, honesty is.

[dropcap]29[/dropcap]  It’s okay to be afraid, but sometimes you have to be brave as well.

[dropcap]30[/dropcap]  The way you do anything is the way you do everything.

Many thanks to Mr. Homer Goes To Washington for the awesome banner pic.

Ludum Dare

This weekend I decided to participate in my first Ludum Dare. My idea was to create a simulation-type game inspired by the likes of Monopoly, or Sim City (though not substantially similar to either). My focus would be the property developers who operated during the Celtic Tiger in Ireland.

To help me with research and material, I put out this call to friends and the internet at large for stories. Very interestingly, it got shared quite a bit and commented on, but I got very few replies. Apart from weekendy apathy, this could be an indication that Irish people of my generation have little interest in looking back on what was a very different time. Low emigration, loads of jobs and a bright future, as well as copious amounts of corruption, greed and stupidity. My game focuses on the latter.

The working title I have for the game is Unreal Estate. My idea is that during the boom, property developers succeeded by projecting an image of success. The banks didn’t care about existing debt because they seemed to think that more and more money would be pouring into Ireland forever. Instead, getting access to further loans is accomplished by appearing to be more and more successful.

I’ve never made a sim game before, though I’ve always wanted to. As I’m really sinking my teeth into it, I’m starting to realise what a mammoth task balancing it is going to be, but I can’t wait. Even though it’s just in a rough prototype state right now and I’m still adding features, it’s really exciting to see basic things like turns and money management working. I’m also working on building it in a scalable way, using prefabs and some tricks to make building a bigger, more ambitious map quite easy.

I’ll be hosting the prototype on this site shortly and will post a link here when it’s live. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your comments, suggestions, stories and anecdotes about the boom – the excess, greed and corruption. If you include your name I’ll credit you, if you want to remain anonymous, just leave your name blank (or include it, but mention that you don’t want to be credited). You can email me, or just enter your details and material into the contact form in the sidebar (bottom of this page if viewed on mobile).

Coding again

After a hiatus of a few months, I’m back to coding my own stuff. Starting small, a friend and I came up with a fun idea I decided to build a platformer around, and so far it’s coming together well. I’m taking care with it, staying disciplined so that it’ll be easy to maintain and understand as it (hopefully) scales up.

At this early prototype stage, I’m just working on the physics and controls so that it feels good to play. I’m going to post some nerdy code-y and design-y stuff here over the next while as I add to it.PewPew_TechDemo

If the idea seems solid after we’ve built the prototype, I’d love to share it with you and see what you think!

Working with Fungus

I’ve done some playing around with Twine before, and while I love the simplicity of the platform, the software isn’t very stable or fun to use. I’ve been getting my head around C# and Unity3D, and was thinking that it’d be amazing to be able to make interactive fiction with a robust platform like Unity. A quick bit of Googling and I found Fungus by Snozbot. If you don’t know them, Snozbot is a small crowd of game developers based in Dublin, making a lot of small, polished games. Fungus is a library for Unity3D that’s designed to make it easier to create interactive stories.

Flicking through the thorough documentation I got stuck into setting up a scene. It requires rethinking how you work within Unity, but the library seems very well-thought-out so far.

If you’d like to see how the following code plays out, take a look at the game as it is right now, it’s available in the web player or as a Mac OS X or Windows download.

[codebox]using UnityEngine;
using System.Collections;
using Fungus;

public class FirstScene : Room {

public Page GoodGuy;
public Page BadGuy;
public string levelToLoad;

// Use this for initialization
void OnEnter ()
{
SetPage(GoodGuy);
Say(“Uh…ugh. Where am I?”);
SetPage(BadGuy);
Say(“Don’t worry, you’re safe.”);
SetPage(GoodGuy);
Say(“Why can’t I see anything? Agh, I can’t move!”);
SetPage(BadGuy);
Say(“Your hands are tied and I put a hood over your head.”);
Wait(2);
SetPage(GoodGuy);
Say(“Wait. Did you say I’m safe?”);
SetPage(BadGuy);
Say(“Yes.”);
SetPage(GoodGuy);
Say (“I don’t feel safe.”);
SetPage(BadGuy);
Say (“You’re not. I lied.”);
Wait (1);
Say (“There’s going to be a lot of that.”);
SetPage(GoodGuy);
Say (“Please, I’m a father. You have to let me go.”);
SetPage(BadGuy);
Say (“Wah wah wah, I’m a father! Who cares?”);
// Fade down here?
Call(LoadLevel);
}

private void LoadLevel()
{
Application.LoadLevel(levelToLoad);
}
}[/codebox]

As you can see, there’s no Start() or Update() methods, those aren’t necessary with this library. Instead, we just go straight to OnEnter () and use Say() instead of getting into OnGUI functions.

There is definitely a learning curve, when I first put the code together I thought I could just call the next level by putting in the line Application.LoadLevel(levelToLoad) but that would just skip all of the scene and go straight to the next level. Then I tried encapsulating it in its own function as LoadLevel() but that didn’t work either. In the end I referred back to the documentation and saw that in order for the command to be processed by the command queue they’ve built for their system, you need to refer to other member functions with the Call() command, hence the Call(LoadLevel) at the end of the OnEnter() method.

It’s early days yet, but this is a powerful way to avoid all that messy GUI stuff in Unity.

Designing a Checkpoint System

As mentioned over on No Robots, I was at a game jam the weekend just gone. It was an amazing experience and it felt great to stretch my development muscles. It was also a powerful learning experience working in a team. I couldn’t be lazy, I needed to design my code so it was easily used by the designers who were laying out the levels and applying my scripts in Unity.

Since our game is a 3D platformer, we decided to insert checkpoints. I felt strongly that these should be tuneable, even though we had a group discussion about how many there should be, and where. Things happen, minds change and sometimes what seems like a perfect idea just doesn’t hold up to play testing, so the checkpoint system I eventually came up with was easily scaled from one to as many checkpoints as you like.

The first step was designing the relationships between the different objects in the scene. The player was tagged Player, the checkpoints were tagged Checkpoint and the enemies and hazards were labelled Enemy. This is important, because the scripts need to be able to make sense of this kind of logic flow:

Checkpoint System - Logical Flow

The controller contains pointers to all of the checkpoints in the scene, in the order that they will be triggered. This is a limitation of the system, but one that doesn’t impact our game as it’s a linear experience, are most checkpointed games. When the player enters a checkpoint, the checkpoint makes a record of the location of the player as a Vector3 struct, sets its triggered flag to true and calls the GetLatestCheckpoint() method on the controller. This method iterates through the array of checkpoints starting from the end and stops as soon as it reaches a triggered checkpoint. It remembers this as an integer.

This process repeats any time the player enters a checkpoint, but when the player dies – that is to say, when the player collides with an Enemy object, the respawn method on the Player calls the GetRespawnLocation() method on the controller. This returns a Vector3 from the latest-triggered checkpoint, which the player’s respawn method uses to relocate the model.

Example

In the below example, we have a list of checkpoints, ordered top to bottom in the list and left to right on the map.

List of Checkpoints

Checkpoints on Map

These checkpoints are tagged Checkpoint and have the Checkpoint.cs script attached as a component.

Checkpoint with script

You’ll notice I’ve also included an object using the CheckpointController script. This is to make it a little more fool-proof. You can totally use searching functions to make that stuff implicit, but I don’t like the idea of the overhead, or the scope for weird bugs to creep in, so I like to keep it explicit.

The object with the CheckpointController script applied is an empty game object with a bunch of different controller scripts applied, it just makes it much easier to find when you’re laying out the hierarchy of the scene.

screen_shot_2014-04-15_at_11.03.19

Incidentally, one of the nicest things about working in Unity has to be how it handles circular references – like the above, including pointers to the controller in the checkpoints, and pointers to the checkpoints in the controller. One of the most annoying aspects of C++ is planning out your code to avoid interdependencies, which thankfully isn’t necessary here.

You’ll notice that I’ve put the checkpoints into the array in the order that they will be hit, this is because the member functions will be iterating through the array in reverse to find the latest-triggered checkpoint, so the sequence is important.

That last field, the Latest Checkpoint one, is really just for debugging, to make sure the system is working properly, or to skip the player ahead to a later part of the level.

The code is quite straightforward. The main methods in the controller are:

[codebox]// This method should get called when the player collides
with a checkpoint, this is in the checkpoint script.

public int GetLatestCheckpoint()
{
for (int i = createdCheckpoints.Length – 1; i >= 0; i–)
{
if (createdCheckpoints[i].triggered)
{
latestCheckpoint = i;
break;
}
}
return latestCheckpoint;
}[/codebox]

and

[codebox]public Vector3 GetLatestCheckpoint()
{
return createdCheckpoints[GetLatestCheckpoint()].respawnLocation;
}
[/codebox]

The GetLatestCheckpoint() is called by the respawn function of the Player object to get the location it needs to respawn to, and as you probably guessed, createdCheckpoints[] is the array of checkpoint objects.

Luton Game Jam

This weekend I'm attending the Train2Game Game Jam in Luton. It's a 48 hour event kicking off this afternoon at 6pm and finishing at 6pm on Sunday. The idea is to make a computer game from scratch in that time. I've been to a couple of these before; only one of which was a full-on computer game jam, and even that one was only 12 hours. This'll be my first time attending an event like this with my newfound (but still underdeveloped) programming skills.

I'm part of a six-man team called Rusty Spoons, I'm not sure what we're going to be developing yet, but I'll be posting about my techie revelations and thoughts here. More introspective thoughts and commentary will be posted over on No Robots.

Wish me luck!

Games are taking over

Film is still a big part of my life, but there’s no denying that games are taking up more and more of my attention and energies lately. I realised that my site no longer reflects my interests accurately, so I’ve brought my film section up to date with my latest projects and changed the front page to a games-only portfolio to show the work I’ve been doing in the last few months.

I’ll still be posting about photographic and filmic projects that I think are interesting or worth sharing, but I’ll also be posting about the nuts and bolts of game development and design and unburdening my more commentary-focused blog No Robots of the techy and codey stuff.

For now, please enjoy the time-lapse in the header that I made when we won the Game Jam Unplugged event late last year.

Dictator’s debut gig

My good mate Richard Doran-Sherlock has teamed up with James Walmsley, Megan Riordan and Robin Ball for a new project called Dictator. I went along to their debut gig in The Workman’s Club. They have some great tunes, and even though Robin was being subbed on drums by Phil Doran, who only learned the set a few hours before the show, the rhythm section was really tight, driving the strong vocals and well-written songs. Here are some shots!

 

 

Extra! Extra! Blog Begets Blog!

Good news everyone, I've started a gaming blog! It's called No Robots, and it's where my enthusiasm for computer games flows into the world like Niagara Falls.

I write about current trends in gaming, some of my more interesting experiences, and at least once a week on a Friday I'll put up something beautiful or fascinating from the world of games, like this:

Or this:

I hope you'll swing by and check it out.

 

Barry’s Bespoke Bakery available on the RTÉ Player

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Short Short I produced Barry’s Bespoke Bakery is available to watch on the RTÉ Player for a little while. If you live in Ireland and haven’t seen it yet, this is the only way to see it online. I’m afraid that it is not available to watch if you are outside of Ireland.

This is so it doesn’t affect out international festival run. If you are abroad and would like to see the film, keep an eye on our screenings page, where we post details of all upcoming screenings.
This version on the RTÉ Player will expire on Wednesday the 17th of July, 2013. Please do watch it before then if you can and tell me what you think!

 

Choice is Changing

[intro]You walk onto the forecourt of a dark and desolate gas station, your dog at your side. The old-timey old-timer sitting by the pumps asks you the dog’s name and you hover over answering, “His name is Homer.” but then think better of it and reply, “Her name is Blue.”[/intro] 

[dropcap]K[/dropcap]entucky Route Zero is a small kickstarter-funded project to be released in several acts, and it remains to be seen how your choices affect the story, but while it may seem like a quirky-if-traditional interactive work of fiction, like The Walking Dead, the scope of the choices reveals something quite different.

When I played KRZ, I came to a choice about whether to take a glowing die with me, or leave it on a table for somebody to find. I agonized over this choice, but quickly realized it wasn’t because I wanted to affect the future; it was an ethical choice without clear ramifications. The dilemma was real, personal and internal. Sure, it was a little non-dramatic, it may not have had the bombast of the dilemma posed in harvesting Little Sisters in Bioshock, or the amusing clarity of the dialogue options in Knights of The Old Republic (“1. Don’t worry, I’ll save you! 2. I’ll go and get help; you’re going to be OK! 3. My word, you’re ugly. Bye.”), but it was a choice with a very different flavor. Why would you think twice about choosing the name and gender of your dog? It’s a mechanically pointless choice, but it offers a surprising screen for emotional projection.

Bioshock-Infinite-interview-3

…this new kind of storytelling could be the beginning of something very powerful…

It would seem apparent that the best way to design a choice system is to post a clear signpost at each crossroads so that the player doesn’t feel cheated. In her book Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, Jane McGonigal explores the thesis that games provide what life often lacks; clear and constant feedback. The reason people engage in games, what essentially amounts to “optional work”, is that the work takes place in a framework of feedback recognizing the why and when of work that’s both good and bad, something missing from most jobs and life decisions.

This otherwise brilliant insight starts to fall apart when we look at games as works of art intended to reflect life. The decisions we make in Kentucky Route Zero are difficult because they reflect the difficulty of living in a world where we choose what to do and say without a clear idea of what’s going to happen. The character you play in KRZ ends up being more of you than would have seemed possible because he is a cipher. The choices you make while playing him come from the gut or random chance, without strategy. His problems may not be yours, but by deciding who he is, you can explore what you would do if you were him, not just in his shoes.

In a recent interview with Polygon, Drew Holmes, writer of Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite, went into the problem of giving moral, emotional choices a strategic quality.

[cite]”Looking back at Bioshock 1‘s choice system, it’s something that’s really powerful the first time, not really powerful the second time and by the 10th time you’re not really trying to decide whether to harvest or save the little sisters,” said Holmes. “You’re not thinking about it on a philosophical or moral level at that time because it just becomes ‘I want the more special juice to make me do the thing.’ It numbs people over time.”[/cite]

Referring to a demo of Bioshock Infinite, Emily Gera who authored the piece retells a decision you can make on whether to hurl a baseball at an interracial couple. There’s no clear consequence in the narrative of the game but the personal consequences are clear: be a decent person, or see what it feels like to be an absolute dickhead. You could be the hero, antihero or shades of grey in-between.

As a movement, this new kind of storytelling could be the beginning of something very powerful, a true maturation of a process that started with choose-your-own-adventure books and interactive fiction.  Narrative videogames have struggled with the creative restraints imposed by their predecessors since they began with text adventures, MUDs and point-and-click adventures. The challenge seems to be balancing emotional attachment with a feeling of agency; for emotional attachment you need to provide the player with some kind of personality to latch on to, but giving them total agency makes it very easy for the player to break the spell.

Strategy games like Command & Conquer or Civilization seemed to be the shining light for agency, even Minecraft could be said to be a perfect example of an emergent narrative, but the lack of character means it’s more like Lego or chess than a novel. You can develop an emotional narrative, but it has very little to do with the author of the game. Sure, games like Alpha Centauri come along that give you a rich backstory and clearly defined characters, but that effect is diminished on each playthrough until it’s just wallpaper, like Holmes’ example above from Bioshock. The other end of the spectrum is a character like Gordon Freeman in the Half-Life series, a voiceless cipher in a strong linear story. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t feel some affinity for him after playing a Half-Life game, he’s a bundle of characteristics and traits you inhabit and grow to love like a great hat, but for all of the emotional attachment you develop for him and his world, the story is static, which is not a bad thing, but it doesn’t do much to further the cause of the interactive narrative.

We don’t know yet what Bioshock Infinite or the rest of Kentucky Route Zero will do for decision-making in games, and whether this trend is going to deepen, but it’s an exciting time to be a gamer looking to play through stories.

Shortlisted!

[dropcap]U[/dropcap]niquely Dublin have most wonderfully seen their way to selecting Horse in The Hole for their shortlist. We are exhibiting in the Little Museum of Dublin for the next few weeks until the 26th of April. The exhibition is open and free to the public. Please do stick your head in and have a look at our entry and the other works if you’re in the vicinity.

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The competition’s being run by The Little Museum of Dublin with the support of Dublin City Council and we’re delighted to have been shortlisted – given the quality of the other nominees, we’re in esteemed company. The grand prize of this competition is decided by public vote; you can vote here:

[button link=”http://www.uniquelydublin.ie/” target=”_blank” color=”green”]Cast Your Vote Here![/button]

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IMG_3487[/one-half]

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The Castle Doctrine

[intro] A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to make it into the limited (to 100 people) pre-alpha test of The Castle Doctrine, the new game by Jason Rohrer. If you don’t know Rohrer, he’s the mind behind Passage and Sleep is Death, two of my favourite art games, and Chain World, one of the most impressive examples of conceptual game design I’ve ever seen.

The Castle Doctrine is a turn-based MMO about burglary and home invasions. Bear with me, here. [/intro]

First Impressions

[dropcap]I[/dropcap] started off with my family and a vault in an empty house, with a princely $2,000 to spend on home improvements. With some playing around, I realised that I could place walls, wiring and various security appliances around the house. There were some teething problems, since there aren’t really any instructions, but it seemed clear to me that I would want to make my place as difficult to burgle as possible. I put the vault in the middle of the house and built a doorless room around it. Dusted off my hands and grinned smugly. That should be that. Like to see them cut through that one.

All that hard work done and I decide to go see what other people have tried, so I hit “Done” and get a strange screen:

Prove That Your House Is Fair

[one-half]

“Prove that your house is fair:”…eh, how? Then I realised what was going on. This was a simulation and I had to show that the challenge I set up was winnable. I had to rob my own house. I couldn’t, of course, my house was extremely, prejudicially unfair. That was the whole point. I was also unable to skip or escape out of the screen. Hitting ESC just brought up the pause menu (more on that later). I realised that the Suicide button was the only way out and hit it.

[box style=”note”]UPDATE Jason Rohrer has pointed out that in a situation like mine above, you can actually just walk out the front door and go back to editing the house without being penalised.[/box]

I arrived back into the Build Your House screen, but I was back to square one; I had $2,000, and nothing in my house except my presumably loving family and a vault. This was going to be tougher than I’d thought.

After a LOT more tinkering, I figured I had a pretty good trap set up, an elaborate series of circuits would trigger in sequence, seeming to trap the burglar in a corridor tantalisingly close to the vault, but then with some careful backtracking, they could get past the electrified floors and grab the loot. I hit Done and began my dummy run. I accidentally got electrocuted and died, losing all of my work. What a fucking dummy.

[/one-half]

[one-half last]

When you hit ESC you bring up the pause menu – anything you type into that goes to the server, which Rorher can read through, a brilliant idea for feedback. I made several notes about how annoyed I was that a simple accident could kill me in a simulation of robbing my own house. It didn’t seem to make sense, so I went back to the game and tried setting up something similar again.

I tested it and accidentally died. Again. Fucking again. I made some more notes. I set up the house again. I died in my own Home Alone-like palace of pain. Right, that’s it, I thought. I’m going to bed.

I hit ESC to get to the menu so I could quit, but the image of the defenceless family and vault with $2,000 in it, in a big empty house somehow resonated with me. I didn’t want to leave them defenceless. I wanted to come back to something, anything at all.

Right, just one more pass, I said, just one more quick little setup and then I can rest easier knowing that someone else will pay the ultimate price for daring to cross my threshold. Having created my funhouse at least fifteen times by that stage I had gotten pretty good at it, and I was proud of my handiwork. Instead of quitting, I thought I’d have a look at what else was going on. I mean, it’s an MMO, right?

[/one-half]

Screen Shot 2013-03-07 at 01.38.52
Rob Lowe – great in Parks & Rec

Hmmmm. Three people died, huh? Well, I couldn’t resist. I double-clicked and got the now-familiar screen I got when playing the burglar, only this time of course the place looked totally different, since it was built by someone else. What’ve I got to lose, right?

[rev_slider invasion]

Turns out this asshole had pitbulls. Two of them. So I died. And lost everything. All of the work I had done. FFS. I started again. I had no choice at this point. I robbed two houses successfully, armed with drugged meat and a gun. I got a serious nest-egg going! I was killed. I started over. A couple of times.

[divider]

[one-half]

Wifey, the two kids and your life's savings.

It’s a very interesting game; full of good ideas, both conceptual and mechanical. I like the art style. I don’t know how finished it is, whether the gang of pre-alpha testers I’m a member of is expected to help make the game more fun or just more stable. As it stands, I think that not being able to tweak the design of your house without risking death is a big mistake (more on that in a future post). I know it got its hooks into me, but I was genuinely annoyed by it – it kept slowing me down, regulating my speed and fun.

I like that all of the players are anonymous, it makes it something of a hybrid, both MMO and single-player. You don’t chat with anybody or fight them in real time, you just assault one another’s homes. The only realtime element is the “Leaderboard” – the list of unattended houses.

[/one-half]

[one-half last]

[headsubline subline=”The Castle Doctrine has some lovely little touches…”]>The Little Things[/headsubline]

  • Your family always faces towards you – I think it creates a sense of responsibility.
  • The method of ensuring every house is solvable by making you solve it before you leave is very elegant.
  • When you drug the dogs, you still have to go around them, or you’ll wake them up, so you have to be careful where you drop them.
  • Dogs and cats trigger pressure plates, so they can be incorporated into a trap system.
  • Your wife carries half of the money in the house, so as a burglar, you have to option to kill her or let her go.
  • When a family member has been killed, the remaining members don’t run when an intruder enters. It feels like they have nothing left to run for.
  • Chihuahuas are provided as stand-ins for pitbulls.
  • Houses can be rigged so they can only be broken into once. IF you’re clever.
  • Players are given randomised, anonymous names.
  • No chat system.
  • You can search for people who robbed you by name to find and burgle their houses.

[/one-half]

Horse in The Hole

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]yself and Denis produced this for entry to the Uniquely Dublin competition last week. The illustrations were created by Alan Lambert and were animated by me! I also created the soundtrack. Denis wrote and directed the piece. The excellent cast were Damien Devaney as Charlie Pigeon and Kian Murphy as the boy. Many thanks to Nick McGinley and Vincent Lambe for all of the help putting together the cast.

I’ve worked a little in animation before, but this is the most involved I’ve been in the process. Even though it’s a very short piece (we always wanted it to be under a minute), we put an awful lot of work into it, and I found that process very rewarding. I’m proud of the piece, cheesy and quick though it may be, but I’m especially glad for the experience.

[divider]

[tabs align=”center”]

[tab title=”Audio”]

[one-half][dropcap]T[/dropcap]he first thing we did was record the audio. As soon as we started thinking about how to cast the roles, we wanted Damien for the reporter. We had auditioned him for a project a couple of years ago and really liked his presence and timing. The piece was originally going to be live-action, and we also liked Damien’s look, but in the end we just required a vocal performance from him.[/one-half]

[one-half last]We recorded the audio at my parents’ house, and layered in sound effects, mostly sourced online or from libraries. Then we tried out a couple of actors to play the young boy, finally finding Kian’s voice and gladly settling on his performance for the final edit. Once we had the edit locked, which is to say, the timings were final, if not the mix and sound effects, we sent it to Alan to illustrate.[/one-half]

[/tab]

[tab title=”Illustrations”]

[one-half][dropcap]A[/dropcap]lan got right to work and put together a number of rough panels. Denis gave some notes on them, and we bounced them back and forth once or twice more before signing off on the look. Alan’s work is always excellent, but continuous communication is important to make sure the vision for the piece is consistent.[/one-half]

[one-half last]As we were going through the panels, we discussed the edit and the style of animation, and as well as providing backdrops and tableaux, Alan created elements for me to animate, like the snorts of the horse, the shotgun, the boy and the reporter.[/one-half]

[/tab]

[tab title=”Animation”]

[one-half][dropcap]F[/dropcap]inally, once I’d received the illustrations from Alan, I scanned them up at a reasonable resoluation (300dpi) in full colour and pulled each one into Photoshop. Because they were on such large canvases, many of them wouldn’t fit on the scanner bed, so I had to scan them in sections and use the photomerge function in Photoshop to stitch them together.[/one-half]

[one-half last]I pulled the PSD files into After Effects, masked/clipped the elements and started creating scenes according to the outline that Denis and I had hammered out. I then added these compositions to Premiere so that I could time them to the audio. This may sound awkward, but the dynamic linking gave me an awful lot of control for tweaking.[/one-half]

 

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[/tabs]

A Challenge

This year I’ve been trying something new; writing every single day. The limited term for this challenge is the 40 Days of Lent. A partially arbitrary period; I’m an avowed atheist, but there’s an air of sacrifice about and I’d be a fool to ignore it.

The idea came from a close friend, and we’ve been keeping in near-daily contact to keep one another on the straight and narrow. For the most part, we have been killing it, but we’ve hit some rough patches, and today is such a patch.

This is Day 16, and almost every fibre of my being is screaming for me to stop typing and put the head down, get some sleep. I’m feeling a little stuck – I have no shortage of ideas, I’ve been trying to space them out so that I can be sure to have something different to write about every day – my problem is motivation. I’m running low.

I didn’t write anything last night, so this post counts as one of my items, a warm-up to get caught up.

I recognise this feeling, I’ve felt it before as a photographer, videographer, guitarist, pianist and bassist, it’s familiar to most creatives, and it’s the reason this challenge is such an important exercise. Powering through this doldrum is what separates the professionals from the hobbyists. I could never get past it in my music, I’m no musician. I would drop the instrument for a while, anywhere from a fortnight to a year, and then pick it up again, feeling fresh and expressive. A professional musician doesn’t have that luxury, and when she gets past that “running up a sanddune” period, she will be a stronger musician for it.

Tonight is an opportunity for me to show myself how serious I am about being a committed creative writer. This post has been a warm-up – now I’m off to write down some thoughts and a couple of script pages or character outlines. It’s tough, but it’s a meaningful and valuable commitment in oneself.

I highly recommend it.

5 Second Film: The Box

A film parody, like the Voiceover Arist videos we made, this was a quick way to play with the running time of 5 seconds without having to pick up a camera.

Things I Learned From Joss Whedon

[intro]I went to see Joss Whedon’s new film Much Ado About Nothing today, followed by a talk from the man himself. I came away feeling inspired, below are a few of the things Nathalie and I spoke about, that were rattling around in my head on the way home.[/intro]

[dropcap]1.[/dropcap] Character always comes first. Whether it’s a douchebag in Much Ado About Nothing, or Hawkeye in The Avengers. I’m reminded of a great quote I heard from Denis: [cite]What does he want, and why can’t he?[/cite] Motivation is everything.

[dropcap]2.[/dropcap] Collaborate carefully. Joss made a point of saying that he worked with his friends, and that he picked those friends up as he went from project to project. He clearly worked hard to get them and to keep them, and he credits them with bringing a lot of ideas and energy to their projects.

[dropcap]3.[/dropcap] Make what you write. As he pointed out, these days there’s no excuse for not constantly producing and writing your own material. I’ve been feeling quite itchy (no, not down there) lately to get out there and get making things again. I get this point completely.

[dropcap]4.[/dropcap] Don’t be afraid to stay small. This crossed over with something Gabe Newell said on a podcast recently. Being small means you can be nimble and quick, and can leapfrog the competition. You don’t need to be part of the machine, you can build and drive your own business around your own content.

[dropcap]5.[/dropcap] Be humble but confident. Joss was humble, eager to acknowledge the work of others and to make light of his efforts, but he wasn’t falsely modest, or insincere. It’s important to always stay real and connected to the reality of your successes and failures.

The Festivals Thing

[rev_slider bbbfests]

[divider]

[intro]What are film festivals for, anyway?[/intro]

[one-half]

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]’ve been a filmmaker for around ten years. I was always aware of film festivals growing up, but it wasn’t until I became a professional that I really got my head around their nature and significance.

If you’re familiar with the business end of festivals, don’t worry, I’ll keep my explanations brief.

On my current project I’ve been lucky enough to receive quite a bit of traction – the laurels in the slider are all for Barry’s Bespoke Bakery (as of February 2013). It’ll be nine strong by the end of this month, and getting so involved with the work whilst feeling on top of it, I found myself examining my relationship with festivals over the years and thought I’d share a little.

When I was making my first film I had no idea what I was doing, and was so focused on getting the thing done and trying to figure all of that out, that I didn’t really think about what came next. When the day did come and I’d finished it, I realised that I hadn’t looked at film festivals and didn’t really know what sales and distribution were. That stuff had seemed so far away at the start I had forgotten all about them.

That changed when I began working at a production company in 2007 and submission to and attendance at film festivals became part of my duties, which is how I started to learn about their value. Up until that time the only film festival I’d been to was the JDIFF, a fine festival and a lot of fun, but it’s aimed primarily at an audience, rather than filmmakers.

I still remember my first submission. It was right against the deadline for a major Irish festival. I gave myself about an hour to get it done and ended up panicking, typing up a few things and printing out a form with a DVD, throwing it in the post. I never heard anything back, unsurprisingly. It wasn’t until I attended my first festival only a few months later that I realised that I’d never really been to the kind of festival that I, an aspiring filmmaker, could enter. It suddenly seemed so silly that I’d blindly stabbed at trying to gain entry to a world I had no experience of.

[/one-half]

[one-half last]

Barry's Bespoke Bakery - Michael Bates as Barry adjusting a cake

It helps to think of it as less like a festival, and more like a conference.

[/one-half]

Michael D. Higgins at JDIFF

[divider]

[headsubline subline=”The business end of planning for film festivals as a filmmaker”]What needs to be done, when, and why.[/headsubline]

[tabs align=”center”]

[tab title=”Pre-Prodction”]

[one-half][dropcap]S[/dropcap]ure, festivals don’t seem important now. You’re “too busy” trying to rent goats for half price and figure out how to make the dude’s head explode in the second act, but this is the only time you’ll have the TIME to think about them. This is where you need to make decisions that’ll impact your applying to festivals down the road. One of the few luxuries you have at the start is time, so you should spend that time preparing.[/one-half]

[one-half last]

  • Booking a great stills photographer. Good images will matter.
  • Making a list of all the stuff you need to send to festivals so they can evaluate and screen your film, those NTSC DVD transfers and DCPs don’t make or pay for themselves.
  • Researching any niches your film may qualify for.
  • Making a list of festivals with submission dates you should be aiming for.

[/one-half]

[/tab]

[tab title=”Production”]

[one-half]

[dropcap]N[/dropcap]ice. The real work. The real heavy-lifting. If you are into macho things, this might be a manly time for you, a time for yelling at people in the rain, for laughing at would-be muggers before you counter their knife with a 4KG camera to the head. If you are more genteel, this could be a time for meaningful reflection. Long walks. Conversations about subtext and meaning. Either way, this is where the magic happens, and as far as festivals are concerned, it’s important the magic happens on time.

[/one-half]

[one-half last]

If you aren’t under any other restrictions, festivals can act as a useful deadline. Sometimes you need to push back post-production because you’re sticking to your guns creatively, and that’s ok, but I like to make an informed decision and know what festival opportunities it will cost me. If you take the time in pre-production to work out which viable festivals will be closing their submissions around the time of delivery (completion), you won’t have to add to the stress of triage that usually goes with a last-minute schedule change.

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[/tab]

[tab title=”Post-Production”]

[one-half]

[one-half last]

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hether you’re lounging on couches in a full-bore post-production facility, or sleeping on your own couch so your homeless digital genius friend can experience a bed in exchange for posting your film, you will need to prepare for the technical and logistical aspects of submitting and delivering to film festivals. If you have been funded, the good news is that a lot of this you’ll be doing anyway for delivery to your financier. To whit, you’ll need to generate:

  • PAL DVD
  • NTSC DVD
  • 1080p or 720p h.264 [abbr title=”Quicktime”]QT[/abbr]

Those are what you will need to submit to a festival, but what’s the point in submitting if you won’t be able to screen if selected? To screen, you’ll need some or all of the following:

  • DCP
  • 35mm Print
  • 1080p ProRes [abbr title=”Quicktime”]QT[/abbr]
  • 1080p h.264 [abbr title=”Quicktime”]QT[/abbr]
  • Beta SP
  • DigiBeta
  • HDCam

[/one-half]

Then there’s the paperwork. This is not to be underestimated or ignored. You will have to do this at some point if you’re serious about putting your film out there and it’s better to get it out of the way at the start. It’s the whole “doing your homework on the Friday” business all over again. It sucks.

  • Timecoded dialogue list
  • Official synopsis
  • Official logline
  • Full credits
  • Director’s Bio
  • Producer’s Bio
  • Writer’s Bio
  • Biographies for the cast
  • Images from production
  • A poster
  • An [abbr title=”Electronic Press Kit – usually a PDF going behind the scenes”]EPK[/abbr]
  • Tech Specs
  • Director’s Statement
  • Billing Block Credits

 

 

[/tab]

[tab title=”Festival Time”]

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]ime for a cocktail, you’re done. Kinda. If you’ve laid the groundwork, you’re kinda set, you just send your film off the festivals with the standard materials you’ve put together, and hopefully getting into a few. The ideal scenario is that your film’ll catch fire (not literally) and start getting (literally) invited to other festivals. This is great because it’s cheaper, it feels nice and it improves your prospects of getting distribution hugely.

[/tab]

[/tabs]

[divider]

[one-half]

That first working trip I took to a festival was to the Galway Film Fleadh in 2007, and I learned an awful lot about why so many filmmakers attend. It helps to think of it as less like a festival, and more like a conference, like an insurance brokers’ conference, or a medical professionals’ conference. They’re far more similar than they may sound.[/one-half]

[one-half last]You’re there because everyone else is there, there’s free booze to be had, new interesting work to see and talk about, and at some festivals, there are deals to be done. Galway, Cannes, Toronto and many other festivals around the world feature markets – for buying and selling films for distribution, and some form of matchmaking – setting up creatives with money and logistics people.[/one-half]

Sunset at Galway Film Fleadh

I could write a lot about attending festivals, but it’s an area I don’t consider myself an expert in, for all of my hours logged. Instead, I’d like to talk a little about what it’s like getting your film in.

Preparation

[one-half]
Screen Shot 2013-02-22 at 01.40.03[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he process of thinking about which festivals you’re going to go for should start while you’re in pre-production. Once your film is finished many months later, hopefully on time, you put together your package. Just about every festival asks for exactly the same things, so you collate them all into a .zip file which you host on a website or, more often, the Public folder in your Dropbox account. If you’re curious about what’s involved, take a look at our one for Barry’s Bespoke Bakery.[/one-half]

[one-half last]
Screen Shot 2013-02-22 at 01.40.03You put this together once and keep it in one spot so that you don’t have far to look when you’re filling out an application for a festival. The next thing you do is go to withoutabox.com, sign up and enter in ALL of that information. Withoutabox is a platform used by most American and many European film festivals. You just enter all of the relevant details once, and then when you want to enter a festival, you login, select the project, pay the fee and you’re done – it’s great! That does bring me, however, to the next point.[/one-half]

Dosh

[one-half][dropcap]T[/dropcap]he fees for film festivals tend to stack up quite quickly. It’s a little cheaper these days since you don’t have to post off quite as much stuff as you used to, more and more festivals are accepting password-protected Vimeo links and Withoutabox online screeners, but almost all festivals charge to submit your film, and there are still plenty of fests around that require a printed submission form and DVD screener.[/one-half]

[one-half last]Some of the bigger festivals are free, or very cheap, but it’s the mid-tier festivals that will have you spending a lot of money. For our current project, on three festivals, we spent €50, £40 and $50. Three or four of those a month along with some smaller ones and it quickly adds up – especially when it’s a total gamble! Those aren’t fees to get your film shown, they’re fees to get your film in with a chance of being shown. Filmmaking, like most media, is very speculative, and this process is no different.[/one-half]

Bummer

[one-half]

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he sad reality of course is that, no matter how good your film is, you’re not going to please everybody all of the time, and so you have to make peace with the fact that you will get rejected from time to time. Sometimes those rejections make sense. Sometimes they don’t. The rejections that make sense are the ones where all of the films that do get selected are so brilliant, you have to take it on the chin. The rejections that don’t make sense are the ones where you see who gets selected and cannot figure out what they failed to see in your film, or what they found in the films they did select, but even then you have to let it go as a subjective decision, a matter of taste. These things just happen.

The practical reason for pushing so hard is that most festivals have a twelve-month window for selecting films in competition, meaning that if your film screened more than twelve months before their festival is going to start, you’re probably not going to qualify for selection at all. This gives you a finite amount of time to make an impression. You will still see films doing the rounds after that window has passed; there are flexible festivals, and a lot of fests will have an “Out-Of-Competition” programme for films which they like, but because of their internal rules, cannot consider for a jury or audience prize.

Barry's Bespoke Bakery - Beautiful Cake

[/one-half]

[one-half last]There are a few reasons one strives for prizes. First of all, it feels good for the hard work you put into your film to be recognised as significant and having value. Secondly, many festivals offer money or otherwise valuable prizes, and thirdly, you get to change your laurels from this:

Barry's-Bespoke-Bakery---Laurels---OS

into this:

Barry's-Bespoke-Bakery---Laurels---BF
Which will add a certain something to your posters, artwork, website etc. In a competitive business about relationships, improving your first impression is a valuable endeavour. You also become an “award-winning filmmaker”. Looks good on any CV.[/one-half]

 

W00t!

[one-half]

Barry's Bespoke Bakery - Beautiful Pastries

[/one-half]

[one-half last]

[dropcap]C[/dropcap]ongratulations! You got your film into a festival! Once all of the champagne corks have been swept up, you get to work. If it’s a big festival overseas you can apply to Culture Ireland for a travel grant to cover some of your travel expenses. If you’re not going to be attending, you’ll still need to be aware of a few dates:

A possible press embargo

We were embargoed for the BFI London Gay and Lesbian Film Festival for a few weeks, though it’s not terribly common.

The deadline for your images and copy

They’ll be going to press with their programme a month or so before the festival so they can have a proper launch with a band and bubbly and all the rest, and your images and copy are going to have to be in it! That’s usually the first thing a festival will start shouting for once you’ve been accepted, and it’s a serious pain in the ass for them if you’re late with it.

When they want the print

There’ll be someone on the staff called the Print Traffic Co-Ordinator, or sometimes just the Print Co-Ordinator. Their job is to ship in all of the screening copies and ship them all back, or on to other festivals. As you can imagine, it’s a very stressful job that only really suits very meticulous people. They can be understandably inflexible, but in my experience can also be great allies if treated with the proper respect.

When the screening is

The festival will publicise the event and a couple of headline events, but they probably won’t publicise your film past putting it in the catalogue, so having the date as far in advance as possible is a great help as it allows you to start advertising your screening everywhere you possibly can.

When they can give your print back

If you’re on a roll, you’ll want them to send that print on to another festival, if not, you’ll just want them to send it home, but it’s important not to lose sight of this date. It very rarely happens, but sometimes the print manager isn’t as meticulous as you’d expect, and the print just…hangs around at the festival until someone remembers and gets it shipped back.

[/one-half]

The Sweet Smell of Success

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]uccess changes everything. If you get a couple of notable wins, your film “catches”. Instead of you pushing it, the market changes its attitude to you and begins to pull. You get invitations to festivals, offers to fly you over, and even screening fees, where THEY pay YOU to show the film. Like a fine balancing act, the judgement, restraint, patience and persistence that you try to show in pushing the film to festivals, suddenly needs to gracefully switch directions. You can’t accept every offer, you can’t fly to every festival (though you can have a lot of fun trying), you still need to stick to a strategy. You’ll find that you don’t have enough DCPs or HDCAM tapes to go around, that you can’t sift through the correspondence from people who have seen your film or just heard about it fast enough to tell the shysters and charlatans from the genuine attempts to communicate.

Wrap it up

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]’d like to write a lot more about it – if there’s anything you’d like me to expand on, please sound off on the comments or shoot me a mail – ben@ben.ie

Belfast Film Festival

Barry's-Bespoke-Bakery---Laurels---Belfast-Film-Festival[dropcap]A[/dropcap]nd the hits just keep coming. I can also announce this week that our film Barry’s Bespoke Bakery has been accepted to the Belfast Film Festival. Details of the screening will be available here.

…please do come along and say hello…

I haven’t been to Belfast since I was under the age of ten, so I’m looking forward to heading up with Nathalie and Denis and spending some time at the festival. Are you going to be there? I hope you get to catch the film, and please do come along and say hello. I’d also love to hear any feedback you have on the film, so don’t be shy!

BFI London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival

Barry's-Bespoke-Bakery---Laurels---BFI-London-Lesbian-&-Gay-Film-Festival[dropcap]S[/dropcap]o, the little film that could, Barry’s Bespoke Bakery has been accepted to another film festival! This begins its run in the LGBT film circuit, as there’s a gay element to the story.

We’re delighted to be screening at such a prestigious festival, and I hope anybody I know in London gets a chance to see it. Details of the screening are be available over on the official website, and if you haven’t seen it already, please check out the trailer above.

 

5-Second Film: Hardback

Yes, yes, I know – it’s not a hardback book, but it is a way to work in an erection joke, an eternally welcome opportunity over at Half a Giraffe. This was another experiment, along with Paranormal Activity, that we did to explore the running time. This has quite a few edits of course, and we shot an angle in there that we didn’t end up using.

Chicago Irish Film Festival

Barry's-Bespoke-Bakery---Laurels---Chicago-Irish-Film-Festival[dropcap]I[/dropcap] produced a film last Spring called Barry’s Bespoke Bakery. This has been a good week for having our work recognised; we’ve been accepted to the Chicago Irish Film Festival! Happy to announce that we’ll be screening on the 6th of March 2013. I keep details of all upcoming screenings here.

Also happy to say that we have a few more bits of good news yet to come this week.

5-Second Film: Normal Activity

Part of Half a Giraffe’s 5 second films series, this one kicked it off. Gemma came up with the idea and we shot it while Ciaran was over from Canada.

Along with our Hardback sketch, this was an early experiment with the running time of 5 seconds. It turns out that writing for 5 seconds is tough, but not as tough as you’d think. I reckon the last few years of sketch-making have been good to us.

99% Invisible

[dropcap]I[/dropcap] don’t really write about music or podcasts, but I was talking with a friend about this episode of 99% Invisible and thought I’d share it with all y’all. The podcast is about the 99% of great design that is completely invisible, and how that shapes our world and our lives, the topics range from airport crowd-control systems to political rallies and in this episode, music recording.

Jon Brion, who composed music for Paul Thomas Anderson and Michel Gondry, talks about the distinction between a song as a piece of written music, and a performance piece, as a recording.

It’s only ten minutes long, but really interesting. If you enjoy it, check out some of the other episodes over on http://99percentinvisible.org/

Minecraft Map

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]hose of you who know me have probably heard me talk about Minecraft, one of the most wonderful games I’ve ever played. A kind of virtual sandbox, it can be difficult to get started, especially since there’s no tutorial or manual, but it’s definitely worth the initial work up the learning curve.

One of the coolest aspects of Minecraft is multiplayer. Anybody can create a server and have their mates come and join in. With a little bit of networking know-how and some awesome plugins and 3[sup]rd[/sup] party software, you can put together something quite full-featured.

I’ve been hosting a server for some time now, and have recently overhauled the mapping system. Using Tectonicus, I’ve created three maps:

The Nether
The Nether
The End
The End
Regular World
Regular World

If you’re interested in joining in, drop me a mail.

My Gear

If you’ve been wondering why things have been a little quiet here, I should mention that my gear was stolen while I was shooting a job in Colombia. They got my camera, lenses, cards, accessories, phone and laptop. I’m hoping they’ll all be replaced soon, so I can get back up and running, and in the meantime I’m working on the footage I brought back from the trip. Thanks for checking in 🙂

Ben Keenan Signature

2012

[dropcap]A[/dropcap] little month late, here’s some background on 2012, the video I made with the wonderful Nathalie about our year together. We shot this on our 5D Mark IIs and the 16mm-style footage was shot by Nathalie on an iPhone 4S. She has some wonderful shots from our trips over on her blog, which she recently revamped, so it’s definitely worth a look.

We cut the video on Final Cut Pro X on my 13″ MacBook Pro over three or four evenings with a strict deadline of midnight on New Year’s Eve. We got it done by seven or so and headed out to dinner to ring in the new year, knowing our project was finished and live – a lovely feeling!

Like pretty much all of my video work, it’s been added to my portfolio.